Motorola Xoom: The First Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) Tablet

Final Words

In general, tablet prices are a major turn-off. If you add up the costs of buying a case, cradle, keyboard, and the apps, purchasing a tablet is a more expensive proposition than many enthusiasts accustomed to investing in performance are willing to consider. Even in the case of the Xoom, you're paying a premium for portability, and could actually get a faster notebook for far less.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Apple iPad 2 Pricing16 GB32 GB64 GB
AT&T 3G$629$729$829
Verizon 3G$629$729$829
Motorola Xoom Pricing16 GB32 GB64 GB
Xoom Wi-Fi-$499-

The beauty of Apple's pricing strategy is that it at least lets you buy in at a lower price. Unfortunately, you have to also buy the capacity you need immediately. There is no option to expand storage. So, if you realize you need more space down the road, you have to either suck it up or buy another iPad. Personally, I find it difficult to fit all of my audio tracks, e-books, and movies on a 16 GB iPad 2. That doesn't even include the space I need for apps. Thirty-two gigabytes is the absolute minimum for my entire media collection with space left over for additional programs. But clearly there are people who get along just fine with 16 GB.

In that regard, Motorola handicapped itself by forcing everyone to buy a 32 GB alternative for $599. It's really unnecessary since the Xoom features a microSD slot for expanded storage. Motorola's single-model approach may have been intended to simplify the product line and lower manufacturing costs, but we'd argue that the company would be better off with a 16 GB Xoom at $499.

Update 7/8/2011: Within the past 48 hours, Motorola dropped the price on the Wi-Fi Xoom to $499, citing poor sales. I've updated the pricing table, but my comments still stand. Motorola did a disservice to itself and potential customers by forcing us to buy in at higher price. I would also argue that Motorola should have gone one step further and cut the price down to $399. The price structure is now even with the iPad 2, but there are other Android tablets that the Xoom has to contend with.

Motorola gets some points for its expansion concession, but low marks for execution. The whole pricing and capacity debate is moot because the microSD slot still isn't enabled at the software level here in the U.S., even though it was expected in the Honeycomb 3.1 update. Almost infuriatingly, non-U.S. Xooms do get microSD support with 3.1.

This really underscores a fundamental problem with Android-based tablets. Everything feels a bit rushed and less polished. After two months of use, I'm noticing the small things. For example, there's a lag in the time it takes for the Xoom to switch from landscape to portrait mode. If you have widgets on your screen, it's even worse because overlays aren't cached; they're redrawn every time.

There's another weakness inherent to Android-based tablets. Apple's greatest strength is that it controls the experience from top to bottom. Developers can't release iPad apps unless they conform to Apple's rules and standards. This makes for a uniform and immersive experience. The guidelines for UI, gestures, graphics, and screen rotation are the same in every iPad app. When you use one iPad app, you know how to use every other iPad app. That's not the case for Android.

In the spirit of GNU and open source, Google offers a more freestyle path. While that encourages uninhibited software development, the result varies from app to app. Even so, tablet programs for Android are fewer in number. I really don't accept the argument that Honeycomb hasn't been around long enough. Apple and Google both started with operating systems geared to smartphones, but the number of apps for the iPad exploded into the thousands within months of the device's launch. It's already been more than five months since Honeycomb's launch, and the number of tablet-specific apps is less than 100. The figures provided by Google seem more impressive because many apps are simply upconverted for a larger screen, but very few of them are explicitly designed for Android-based tablets.

While there are fewer general-use apps, Google needs to thank Nvidia for pushing development of Android-oriented games. Nvidia obviously wants to highlight its Tegra 2 SoC, but the hardware vendor seems to be doing a better job of directly engaging developers. There's a whole slew of new games about to be released. Some of them, such as Riptide, are ports from Xbox, which suggests that Nvidia is hoping to see more popular titles released. That's the good (Ed.: albeit obvious) news.

The bad news is that the whole Android experience is less immersive than what Apple offers. For example, the widescreen display on the Xoom is better suited to watching videos, but the iPad is optimized for tasks like reading books. The 4:3 aspect ratio just works better, since it's similar to staring at a pad of paper.

It's difficult to compare the Xoom to the iPad 2. While the iPad 2 outperforms the Xoom, that's not saying as much in the tablet world as it would be in a desktop PC comparison. Though, in my opinion, the iPad is the Wii of the tablet world. It's easy to use and there's a plethora of apps to keep you engaged. The Xoom is more like Sony's PS3. There are many cool features, but the learning curve is steeper. When you're using an iPad, it truly feels like what we'd hope for from a "tablet experience." With the Xoom, it merely feels like you're "not using a notebook." Right now, Apple has the advantage of being one generation ahead. Motorola's Xoom represents the first Android tablet. So Google needs to ramp up software and hardware development if it wants to close that gap.

  • dragonsqrrl
    Very impressive review, especially the display quality page. A lot of in-depth information.
  • joytech22
    Excellent! Covered everything I was interested in when comparing the iPad 2 to the Xoom.
  • tramit
    Excellent review. I also agree that the excuse of Android coming later in the game does not mean it cannot have the same growth in apps in the same alotted time frame that it was released.

    I personally feel that the iPad is a better device for gaming just by going through the app store and being able to find games ranging from Monopoly to FF3 and Infinity Blade. I have a Nexus S right now and the list of attractive games is not as long.

    I like having both devices however. I plan to stay the course with continuing to purchase Android Nexus phones and having Apple supply me with their iPad. I get to enjoy the best of both worlds and not narrow my enjoyment of tech like most Droid and Apple fanboys.
  • Maziar
    Excellent review.
    I'm impressed with the honeycomb but I think it has 2 major drawbacks
    1)UI is somehow laggy and not 100% smooth
    2)Lack of apps.
    If these 2 issues get fixed,then we're going to see a better competition
  • fstrthnu
    A little late, but very good quality review. Very nice to see custom benchmarks, it really shows you guys put in the effort here.

    I'd probably go for a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, but that's just me.
  • Seems HD video playback was not tested. Nice to have a HDMI option, but not really useful if most HD movies cannot play smoothly as is the case with the XOOM.

    Also, and probably related to the slow video, Tegra 2's CPU has no NEON extensions, limiting applications that use signal processing.

    Yes, I do own a XOOM (also iPad 2 by the way)
  • acku
    Seems HD video playback was not tested. Nice to have a HDMI option, but not really useful if most HD movies cannot play smoothly as is the case with the XOOM.

    Also, and probably related to the slow video, Tegra 2's CPU has no NEON extensions, limiting applications that use signal processing.

    Yes, I do own a XOOM (also iPad 2 by the way)

    Check out page 13. We tested H.264 battery life using a ripped 1280x720 Blu-ray movie.

    On page 12, we also show HD playblack when you're mirroring the display.

    @Everyone else. Thanks for the comments guys. If there's anything else you guy want to see in future reviews please let us know.

    Andrew Ku
  • house70
    Took quite a while to get this review done. Other tablets are already available that sport Honeycomb. Not to mention they are better than both contenders described in this article. I have a Transformer and no matter what I throw at it, it does it well. A review of that would be nice (maybe in another year or so...).
    Good effort, but as others have said, late to the table.
  • house70
    What the reviewer perceives as weaknesses, others perceive as strength. Example: the apps installation process. Not having to deal with iTunes is a bonus in itself, and having the option to make your own backups using whatever application you prefer is also a plus. The reviewer got a bit carried away by his personal bias towards iTunes/iOS environment. There are people that prefer to be led by hand while operating their tablet and there are others that prefer to pick and choose their options without limitations. It's a matter of personal preference. But this should not transpire into an objective review. Other than that, not too bad.
  • Wow - I couldn't disagree more with some of your views. Obviously you love you some Apple... I'm not an Apple hater - I have a Macbook Pro, I have an iPad, and I have a Xoom. I tell everyone the Xoom is 5X the tables the iPad is (Granted it's an iPad, not an iPad2 - but my beef with iPads are how much Apple controls what you can or can't do with it - that has not changed in the new generation of iPads). The iPad I can use as a toy, or as a cool media gadget - I actually basically gave it to my 6 year old son now bc that's all I can do with it. The Xoom I can use as so much more - it is was more useful on so many levels. Yes rendering takes a bit longer when you flip th screen, yes there are a few small quirks in it's behavior occasionally, but from an overall usefulness point of view I like it TONS betters than the iPad. Widgets - MultiTasking - OpenSource app development with an App store NOT controlled by Apple. Android IS the future for tablets. Apple needs to take note - they are just lucky at this point bc of their following, but Android will leave them in the dust. MS isn't even in the game and won't be even when Windows 8 hits. And you price comparison is off too IMO. $599 (now $499) for 32MB on the Xoom was in line (and is now better) than Apple's price point. Take it a step further and look the the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (very similar to Xoom with some things done even better) at $399. Android is taking hold, and will gain on Apple quickly, and eventually blow them away.